So, you want to get away for a few days, but it’s not really in your budget to stay in fancy hotels or travel far from home. Perhaps you really enjoy the outdoors and all nature has to offer. Our family loves to camp and as a mom, I especially enjoy anything that encourages less screen time. A great way to reconnect is to disconnect – and a camping trip is not only fun, it promotes communication, teamwork and social skills.
When you plan and organize well, camping trips can be more budget friendly than you imagine. The largest expense will be your tent and this is one area where you can get a bargain, but you shouldn’t skimp on quality.
A well-made tent that is easy to set up will make the trip more comfortable for everyone. Last year, we purchased a new 10 person instant tent from SAMS club for less than $200. This is a larger initial investment, but with proper care a good tent will last for years.
Many of the other things you need for a great camping trip can be purchased at discount stores and even yard sales or flea markets. Here’s a list of the necessities. Keep in mind your needs may change depending on the type of campsite you visit. Most people with families will opt for campgrounds that allow you to drive directly into your campsite, but many parks also have “hike in” options.
Tent Camping Necessities
- Tent with ground cover (tarp that goes underneath to protect it)
- Large cooler
- Air mattresses or sleeping bags
- Sleeping pads or puzzle mat (not mandatory but increases comfort)
- Air pump
- Repair kit (for mattresses, tent etc.)
- Battery operated solar lantern with extra batteries
- Weather radio (necessary if you camp in very remote areas with spotty cell reception, otherwise a weather app is fine)
- First aid kit (to keep all necessary medications, bandages, salves)
- Portable grill (may not be necessary for campgrounds with fire rings/grills)
- Table covering
- Trash bags
- Towels (for dishes, swimming, showers)
- Toiletries bag (brush/comb, hygiene products, wipes)
- Good backpacks and hiking shoes (if you choose campsites that are “hike in”)
Planning Your Trip
Some of the best campgrounds are found in state and national parks. They are reasonably priced and most are well-maintained. If you’re open to camping on weekdays, you’ll save money and avoid crowds. We love to camp mid-week since it gives us the opportunity to fully relax and enjoy the quiet.
Most states have free guides that will allow you to explore camping options. You can also visit the National Park Service website to search for camping opportunities.
One potential downside to camping in state and national parks are that many don’t accept advance reservations and are run on a “first come first served” basis. Be sure to check first with any parks you want to visit. Most parks sell out on holiday weeks/weekends and it can be difficult to find a space.
KOA campgrounds are another option and they are available all over the country. These campsites tend to be more expensive, but there are perks like a shop, shower houses, and activities. Many have pools and mini-golf and can provide more entertainment for kids. Most also allow you to bring your pet. This is a great way to “get your feet wet” if you are new to camping or want to see if your kids will enjoy it.
KOA also offers a rewards program for added savings. The $30 annual membership will get you 10% off every stay, rewards points, and a free night of camping during their rewards weekend. Every KOA campground accepts advanced reservations making it a convenient choice.
More Frugal Camping Tips
- Bring firewood from home when possible. Firewood sold on campgrounds is pricey when it is available.
- Make homemade treats and pack them in airtight plastic containers to keep them fresh.
- Bring cards or a board game to prevent boredom and keep kids entertained.
- Bring clothes for all seasons. Have a jacket, shorts, long pants, etc. You never know.
- Make a checklist of everything you need and use it to pack. Purchasing from campsite stores is always expensive.
- Bring extra batteries and invest in solar lights/lanterns when you can
- Bring washable dishes instead of buying paper/plastic plates and utensils. Keep them in a basket for every trip.
- Never leave any food outside your tent or vehicle when you are sleeping or away from your site. Raccoons and other creatures are savvy and will open coolers to get your food. Wrap and store everything well.
If you don’t camp often or have yet to try it, borrow a tent or some gear from a friend to see if it’s right for you before investing a lot of money in supplies. Camp in your yard to get the hang of it, or go somewhere close to home so you can return if it’s not working out. Once you have your gear acquired and a bit of experience, you’ll find camping is a very easy way to explore the country while spending much less.